In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans, Louisiana with devastating results. The storm began over the Bahamas on August 23rd before moving towards Florida. It was reclassified as a hurricane just 2 hours before making landfall there and reemerged over the Gulf of Mexico, growing in strength before hitting Louisiana and Mississippi on August 29th. At the time, it was the third-most intense storm to ever hit the continental United States. The trail of destruction left in its wake was valued at $125 billion with at least 1,836 people losing their lives. The city of New Orleans was particularly hard hit, with flood protection levees failing, leaving 80% of the city flooded. It was weeks before the flood waters fully receded and the population declined by over 50%. Since then, efforts have been made to reconstruct the city and the population has begun to rebound. The city’s long established tourist industry has begun to return to pre-Katrina levels.
In the aftermath of the hurricane, much of New Orleans had become a ghost town with many abandoning their properties to move elsewhere in the United States. Cities like Houston and Dallas in Texas, and Baton Rouge and Shreveport in Louisiana saw an influx of Katrina refugees. During the reconstruction, many buildings were demolished, making way for new structures, however some have remained abandoned, left as they were after the flood waters receded. One such place is the former Six Flags New Orleans theme park.
Originally opened as Jazzland in 2000, the theme park was located just off Interstate 510 in Louisiana, near the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. It was originally operated by Alfa Smartparks (now Palace Entertainment) who had more experience with water parks and smaller amusement arcades. It was owned, however, by Parques Reiundios, a Spanish theme park company which went on to buy Palace Entertainment in 2007.
The original theme park included a number of roller coasters including the wooden Mega Zeph, based on the Zephyr which once stood at the Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park (it closed in 1983). There were a number of small flat rides, a log flume as well as many traditional fairground rides as seen in Alfa Smartpark’s other amusement parks. Their lack of experience with larger theme parks was evident though. Jazzland was unprofitable and unable to attract the number of guests originally intended. With the burden on the rest of Alfa Smartpark’s business becoming apparent, it was decided to put the lease up for sale.
In early 2002, the Six Flags Group took over the operation of the park and the Jazzland name remained in place for the rest of the year before closing for rebranding. The park became Six Flags New Orleans when it reopened in early 2003 with a number of new additions. The new Batman: The Ride inverted coaster was built by Swiss company B&M, the Jester roller coaster (a Vekoma looping coaster) was relocated from Six Flags Fiesta Texas and other smaller rides were installed, including attractions based on Looney Toons and Spongebob Squarepants. Some areas in the park continued to have themes based around the state of Louisiana and were given the names Main Street Square, Goodtime Gardens, Cajun Country, Pontchartrain Beach and Mardi Gras. 2 new areas, DC Comics Super Hero Adventures and Looney Toon Adventures, were also added under licence agreements with Warner Bros held by Six Flags.
Visitor numbers improved under the Six Flags ownership and the new rides and licensed properties attracted visitors from Louisiana and beyond. By 2005, Six Flags had begun to draw up plans for a water park to be added to the property but then disaster struck. When Hurricane Katrina struck, the theme park’s location to the east of the city between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne, and being below sea level, meant Six Flags New Orleans felt the full force of the flooding. The theme park was actually due to be closed when the hurricane hit. With weekday operations at the park ending for the season just the week before, the park was, however, due to open on the 27th and 28th of August. With the hurricane approaching, the decision was made not to reopen for the weekend and instead, evacuation plans were put into action.
The entire property was below sea level, surrounded by a six foot high berm and when it flooded, the entire theme park was sitting in what was essentially a bowl. The drainage pumps failed meaning that flood waters remained longer than in other areas. 4 to 7 feet of floodwater covered the area for over a month causing massive damage. The park never reopened.
As a result of corrosive damage from the saltwater which flooded the theme park, most of the rides were declared a total loss. Batman:The Ride survived and was moved to Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio where it became known as Goliath. It opened there in 2008. Road Runner Express is now located at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California, Bayou Blaster and Sonic Slam were installed as Sasquatch in Six Flags Great Escape in New York State. 80% of the buildings had been destroyed and Six Flags declared the park an effective total loss. They stated that rebuilding would be too expensive and sought a release from their lease agreement.
Many of the remaining attractions were left in place, leaving an eerie memory reminiscent of many post apocalyptic zombie movies, the theme park becoming a ghost town and falling prey to nature and the inclement New Orleans weather. The property is decaying at an astonishing rate and has become a mecca for urban explorers from across the United States. The former theme park is now under the care of the City Of New Orleans who have been looking at ways to redevelop the site since the Six Flags lease reverted to them in 2009. A local company, Southern Star Amusements, was in talks to reopen the theme park as New Jazzland and released some details on possible themes similar to those which opened in the original Jazzland in 2000 however they lost interest. Dreamlanding Festival Park was another company looking to develop the property but they also decided not to proceed stating that the loss was too devastating and salvaging anything would be too costly. Talks of an outlet mall foundered and more recently, a second Jazzland proposal has surfaced.
The site has been used most recently as a film set for movies including Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters, Dawn of The Planet of The Apes and most notably, Jurassic World. Beyond that though, the former Jazzland and Six Flags New Orleans remains as it was when the flood waters receded following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA